Georgia Supreme Court orders jury trials resume
MACON, Georgia (41NBC/WMGT) — Jury trials were put on hold last year because of the pandemic. Now thanks to an order from the Georgia Supreme Court, local courts can start putting a dent in the backlog of more than 900 cases.
District Attorney Anita Howard says they did preliminary planning in the event this ruling came down. She says jury trials will start in Bibb and Peach counties in April. Grand juries will resume at the end of March.
“I’m glad that the court is allowing jury trials to resume again,” says D.A. Howard. “We have begun to meet with judges, we also have to form a written protocol, kind of outline how things will work and so we’ve already begun that process.”
D.A. Howard says they are working to get the wheels of justice moving again, but it is going to take some time. Not only do they have more than 900 cases waiting to go to trial, they also have 600 cases waiting for presentation in front of the Grand Jury.
“To be able to get the wheels of justice to be able to turn it is providing my office hope, the public defender, victims of crime, as well as defendants who have been charged with criminal offenses,” says D.A. Howard.
How Jury Duty Will Look Different
Bibb County Clerk of Court Erica Woodford says jury duty is going to look different now that trials can resume. She says jurors will report in a staggered manner. They also have stickers on chairs to maintain social distancing. She says the jury assembly room usually seats 220 but now they will only be able to fit 65 to 70 people. 30 people can fit in the overflow room.
“That will mean that our jury orientation will take much longer than usual but that’s just something that we have to do in order to have precautions,” says Woodford.
Woodford says she’s frightened to resume trial court because she’s had Covid twice. Also, several people in her office contracted the virus. They do have plexiglass in place to protect her and her staff.
“I do understand that we have to resume trials so that we can conduct the business of the courts so that we can make sure that we don’t have any backlog and so that we can continue to move forward,” says Woodford.”
With trials resuming, Woodford says their goal is to ensure everyone stays safe.
“We have sanitizer set up all over, we’ll make sure the jury room stays clean multiple times a day when we do have people in and that everyone is spaced out,” says Woodford.
According to Woodford people can be excused or deferred for a jury summons if they contract Covid or if they are exposed to the virus.
D.A. Howard says her top priority is people who are incarcerated.